4 Ways To Cure Meeting Nausea

In terms of talent management, the term “meeting” may be the antidote to all the things we’re trying to improve. I’m talking about engagement, retention, productivity, ownership, collaboration. Is there even one of us who hasn’t been reduced to a state of what a waste of my time in at least one meeting in the past month? An MIT study on meetings found that we hold some 11 million meetings during one typical workday in the U.S. alone. And the next time you’re doing that surreptitious under-the-desk Googling on your smartphone, search for the annual “time wasted at work” survey. In 2014, 24% of respondents said that they felt like they wasted time in too many meetings and conference calls. And we’re all sick of it.

From a talent perspective, the problem is that meetings are doubly terrible when they’re bad. Not only are they a waste of the company’s time, they’re a waste of the employee’s time, and they have a pernicious way of up-ending our sense of shared mission into a sense of shared suffering. Witness the ritual great escape: we’re all sitting there, silently acknowledging our tacit acceptance of the utter lack of productiveness of the hour (or three) when, finally, the facilitator says, Great, so I think we’re done here. Suddenly, everyone in the room lights up. Ergo, stampede.

We have more tools and toys at our fingertips than ever to fix this, but how do we choose a meeting format for this new era that drives engagement and supports mission and transparency? Take a look at these tips:

Make it agile. Whatever platform you’re shopping for, make sure it enables flexibility. If using a mobile or shared network, the design should be informal and friendly in terms of tone, but not saccharine. It should allow for straying from the agenda when necessary — for creative brainstorming, or quick fact-finding or pulse-taking, but still have a way to re-anchor back into the schedule and punchlist. There is nothing more antithetical to spontaneous creativity than the phrase, “we’ll get back to that.”

Make the friendlies count. We’re become a bit brusque in this day and age: we’re used to rushing into conference rooms or chat rooms, hopping from bullet point to bullet point, dispensing with niceties. Particularly in the culture of the new workplace, where we’re working in text-time with lightning fast responses, there’s little time for small talk. But that’s a facet that alienates, not engages: you’re just waiting for your turn to offer your piece, and then when it’s over, you tune back out. Let’s borrow some etiquette from China, where they spend time making small talk deliberately, shifting into business gradually, and only when everyone has gotten the chance to smile and say something trivial.

Prevent collaborative dissonance. The key here: the bigger the symphony, the longer the coda. Make sure there is a substantial wrap-up component in the meeting that reinforces everything that’s been discussed and all strategies and directions. It’s too easy to walk away from a meeting, virtual or not, in which we don’t have a clear sense of tasking and purview. Also, everyone who contributed should be acknowledged so everyone feels ownership. That’s key to maintaining the spirit of collaborative engagement created in the meeting — and channeling it into productive, innovative follow-through.

Make the space safe. Physical space or virtual space, the same conditions apply. This one has enormous ramifications as well: if attendees are sitting on their hands rather than bringing up an issue, it’s not really a meeting. This is a matter of psychology, not technology, but it’s critical — or can be. It also speaks to transparency and the expectations that millennials and the coming younger generations have of their employer. And let’s face it: nothing says, “faking it” more than shutting down dissent or tricky questions in a meeting.

Meetings are certainly the canary in the coalmine: in an authentically transparent company, they reflect everything about that company, including its message and mission. So let’s make them count and we’ll all feel much better.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 10/30/15.

Meetings: A Snapshot of Your Organization's Culture

Meetings are cultural artifacts that give us a snapshot about how people in the organization relate to each other. They tell us all we need to know about power and authority, decision-making, communication patterns, and the way people relate to each other.

Meeting rooms containing long narrow tables where the leader sits at the head, and meeting rooms with round tables where everyone sits facing each other provide vastly different pictures of power, authority, and relationships. Posters proclaiming good meeting habits tell us about the espoused meeting culture while the food fight we see during the meeting shows us the culture that actually exists. Meetings provide us with a thumbnail picture of the organization’s culture and a powerful means to shift it.

Sarah Miller Caldicott writes in a Forbes article how CEO Alan Mulally’s use of meetings was key to Ford’s turn around: “… it would have been a moot victory had Mulally not also changed the way meetings were conducted, the way supplier agreements were developed, and the way people treated each other day-to-day. It has been reported that before Mulally took over, internal meetings at Ford were like mortal combat. Executives regularly looked for vulnerability among their peers and practiced self-preservation over collaboration. Mulally changed all that, making executive meetings a safe environment where data could be shared without blame, improving collaboration and setting the stage for innovation success.”

Productive, collaborative meetings require a different kind of meeting agenda, an agenda that puts as much emphasis on the meeting’s process as its content. We have found that the Meeting Canoe™ provides meeting leaders with such a framework. One that produces seismic shifts in the way people meet. What follows is a description of the Meeting Canoe™ framework and questions to use in developing your meeting agenda.


Welcome: How will you create a meeting environment where people feel well received?

Connect: How will you build connections between meeting participants so they can work effectively together? How will you build links between meeting participants and the work?

Discover: How will you foster curiosity among meeting participants?

Elicit: How will you engage meeting participants in imagining their preferred future?

Decide: How will you go about deciding: what, how, who, and when? How will you create a decision process understood by everyone present?

Attend: How will you bring closure to your meeting so everyone knows what has been decided, the path forward, and has time to reflect on the meeting experience?

Creating meetings where people feel welcome and connected to the task at hand helps create an environment that supports fruitful dialogue. Listening, straight talk, and inquiry are the essential skills needed in the discover and elicit portion of the agenda. Being clear at the outset about the process the group will use to make decisions provides everyone with a clear understanding of the rules of the game. Attending to the end provides closure to the experience, giving all those present an understanding of the decisions reached, the path forward, and a way to improve future meetings.

When your meeting carries with it the electric charge of Autonomy, Challenge, Learning, Meaning, and Feedback, your meetings transform into a productive work experience. The more features you use, the better your meeting will be.

Autonomy – The ability to influence the meeting’s design and its outcome

Challenge – The prospect of stretching your skills

Learning – The opportunity to learn and grow

Meaning – The chance to work on something important

Feedback – The capability of measuring the meeting’s progress

Meetings provide a rapid way to shift your workplace culture no matter where you sit in the organization. The beauty about what happens in meetings is they are under our control. The choice you make about how you lead and participate in meetings is yours. If you are a meeting leader, you can use your power to create meetings such as those conducted within Ford, or not. You can use the Meeting Canoe framework, or not. You can create meetings that carry an electric charge, or not. You can decide if your meeting experience will be one of self-preservation or collaboration. It’s up to you.

Photo credit: Bigstock

#TChat Preview: How to Make Meetings Worth Everyone’s Time

Last week the TalentCulture team talked about how hiring managers can reduce the cost of hiring and this week we’re discussing how to make meetings worth everyone’s time with Dick and Emily Axelrod, founders of The Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change.

Too many of us feel that meetings are time-wasting, energy-sapping affairs. Most meetings feel like useless gatherings endured at the expense of the real work that needs to get done. But meetings can be productive! Tune in to learn how!

Sneak Peek:

#TChat Events: How to Make Meetings Worth Everyone’s Time

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, Nov 4th — 1 pm ET / 10 am PT

Join TalentCulture #TChat Show co-founders and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as they talk about how to make meetings worth everyone’s time with this week’s guests: Dick and Emily Axelrod, founders of The Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change.



Tune in LIVE online Wednesday, Nov 4th

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wednesday, November 4th — 1:30 pm ET /10:30 am PT Immediately following the radio show, the team will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: Why have meetings become such a pain in the business bottom line? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: What meeting roles and responsibilities do you recommend and why? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: How can we use meetings to understand and empower our organization’s culture? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Until then, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, our TalentCulture World of Work Community LinkedIn group, and in our TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!!

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12 Certain Ways To Ruin A Conference Call 

Email may be the predominant form of communication in business, but it’s not the only medium. Moreover, it’s not used for the most important moments. Face-to-face meetings or live phone calls are required for urgent problems or significant planning issues. Live communication is personal and direct. No matter how commonplace email has become, we still have to be humans from time to time.

Conference calling will always be popular because, while more informal methods like email can get convoluted, more formal meetings are problematic logistically and otherwise inconvenient or invasive for most people. From underlings to CEOs, conference calls drive exchanges outside the company. Expect to spend a fair amount of time, particularly some of the most significant moments of your career, on the phone with others.

Representing your organization in a conference call comes great responsibility. It really is no place for rookie mistakes. Here is a consideration of the 12 most certain ways you can ruin that conference call.

  1. Eating Over The Phone

It’s not polite, and even though I may be eating a sandwich while typing this article, no one wants to hear a sandwich being chewed or a nasally voice talking over chewing. Beyond that, you certainly don’t want ten other people having that image of you. Eat before the meeting or at least bring in something quiet to eat or drink.

  1. Using Dating Sites or Social Media

Some faux pas are so evident that they are obnoxious to even suggest, too obvious to consider, but weird things happen all the time. In fact, there was at least one poll claiming ten percent of people admitted to perusing dating sites during conference calls. Social media can be an addiction, but tell your girlfriend you will favorite her latest tweet after work and use social media for major updates regarding the industry or the company.

  1. Falling Asleep

Another seeming no-brainer, Wall Street Journal acknowledges over 25 percent of people admit to having snoozed through a conference call. Even Morgan Freeman was busted sleeping during a video conference. Get a good night’s sleep before going to work.

  1. Checking Email or Other Divided Tasks

Most people do other work during conference calls, including checking email. There is always something coming up, something more to do. Writing a report during a call is not doing a favor to the client or your organization. Multitasking is an important workplace skill, but focus needs to be prioritized to the clients and business matters at hand, then move on.

  1. Using the Toilet

Hello? The 21st century is calling. Modern convenience reigns supreme. We can get anything on a moment’s notice and aren’t particularly good about remembering how to do things the old way. We used to take breaks to do things like eat, smoke, go to the bathroom, etc. These days, we work all the time. Half of conference callers go to the bathroom while on the phone. This isn’t even polite to do with a friend, don’t let your source of income hear your gastrointestinal noises.

  1. Inviting the Entire Company

While it is good practice to be inclusive and transparent as a company, it’s not the best practice to flood one room with people talking over each other. Clients on the other end need a cohesive review from a well-informed representative. It’s important to include concerns from colleagues, but co-workers have more valuable job duties besides snoozing through conference calls.

  1. Not Being Battle Ready

It’s one thing to be behind in work. It’s another thing entirely to not have materials prepared to share with someone who scheduled time to listen to you. They don’t want to hear that you are not quite sure whether you got that email or why you don’t have the data that was requested. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row before the call.

  1. Not Knowing How to Use the Equipment

Despite technological innovations, dogs are still man’s best friend, technology is not. Glitches, crashes and a myriad of horror stories, plague office equipment. People understand things happen, but there’s a limit to patience. Save excuses of mishaps for rare occasions. Make sure you know how to manage multiple lines and other trickery of smartphones or computer programs before making the call. Don’t accidentally drop the call when you meant to mute it for a second to sneeze. Dropping the ball at the wrong time can lose the game.

  1. Having the Call In a Noisy Place

The random locales for conference calling by the Wall Street Journal include a truck stop bathroom, a pool in Vegas, even a closet at a friend’s house during a party. While it’s considerate to dedicate some intimacy to a meeting, being at a party in the first place was probably a bad idea. Callers don’t want to hear some guy walking by with a boombox, but that doesn’t mean an echoey shower stall is the place to get away from the noise. Find something halfway professional.

  1. Rambling On and On and On

Everyone hates meetings. Everyone. Short and to-the-point is a recipe for success. Of course, don’t cut people short or disregard issues. Bring everything necessary to the table, not including why your mother didn’t like the last conference call interrupting lunch plans and a multitude of other needless things that are an annoyance to people and their busy work days.

  1. Not Being Interesting

Some people are boring. Personally, I am as monotone and deadpan as they come, but it doesn’t mean I am a stick in the mud. Have some ice breakers, some funny things to reduce tension. Try to show that you’re a real person. If the callers wanted an automated response, they would just send email. Don’t be so focused on the product you’re selling that is becomes the only mission you care about. Customers buy with their emotions, not their analytic minds. Make that someone excited to buy from you or work with you. That only happens if they think you’re personable.

  1. Driving While Conferencing

Smartphone sophistication extends to car stereos and other hands-free devices, making driving and talking convenient. People won’t be too upset if you schedule a last minute meeting during a drive to Denver, but make these cases rare and don’t make it too obvious that you’re driving. People get upset when others drive and use the phone, even people that drive and use the phone themselves. Accidents happen because people’s minds are on other things. It’s important to keep your mind on the road, so you make it to Denver. When possible, save the call for a time that your client won’t hear you squeal off the highway to your death.

A good number of points from this list share a common thread: don’t be distracted. If you need to, be distracted by doodling or playing word games related to the meeting. It takes a lot of practice to keep your head in the game while also being distracted. And when you attend 20 calls per week with a rotating cast of characters that drop in to portions of calls, it’ll get tedious and frustrating. Bad stuff will happen. Corners will be cut. A smart person will let that happen to someone else. When it comes back to bite them, you will be in line to win the contract.

Photo credit: Bigstock